It is not far-fetched to assume that readers of this Journal reflect systematically on the concept of ”autonomy” and its relation to unfolding political developments in the world. The critical question is of course to what extent – if any – that the central idea of autonomy is useful in mitigating, managing and/or settling issues and conflicts that cause human suffering if unresolved. The starting point of any analysis along this line is, of course, that the state system – particularly in its more simplistic versions – is not able to deal with the multifaceted aspects of people's identity, traditions, and political history. The granting of ”autonomy” by a majority or a central state is in that context an expression of either self-interest or sensitivity, or maybe both. Such an assumption is a typical approach that autonomy studies take.
But ”autonomy” can also be studied from another perspective. It is also a concept for self-reflection. Any territory or group granted a degree of autonomy has to decide, and to come to terms with, what it de facto means in the specific situation. The question is then what can be done when being autonomous under a set of given circumstances? This is the inner side of autonomy, and that is a perspective that in principle cannot be replaced, or obtained, by someone from outside, and in particular not from the autonomy-granting power. Autonomies have to think for themselves about what they want and what it is possible to do.
Both perspectives – the internal and the external – are necessary for an autonomy to be effective and executed as intended. This is the challenge in analysis of, as well as in the political practice of, autonomy. If applied, ”autonomy” is probably one of the most flexible expressions available of a structural mechanism that can guide the organization of states and communities in a way that reflects respect and dignity for individuals and groups.
As this issue of the Journal of Autonomy and Security Studies illustrates, political parties are important platforms for both internal reflection and external action. Along with other texts on autonomy implementation issues, we hope this issue demonstrates the many-faceted and therefore politically useful character of the autonomy concept.
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